After all these years I am still reading about how knowledge is doubling every couple of years.
The problem is that while ‘accurate (as best it can be) knowledge’ may be doubling, information is increasing even faster, and information (as we should know by now) is not always the same as reasonably accurate knowledge. It is easier to be wrong than to be right, hence it is likely that more inaccurate, than accurate, information is always being produced.
I use the term (dis)information to try and capture this ambiguity. Information is often wrong, often deliberately, often propaganda, often misunderstanding or misleading. And its hard for a normal person, not a specialist in the field, to decide which is which.
As there is so much (dis)information it can hide the best knowledge we have and make that more accurate knowledge unavailable.
We also choose what (dis)information we accept by largely irrational processes such as:
- The (dis)information is accepted by our ‘information group’ and the corporate media which support that group.
- It fits with our predetermined biases and the other (dis)information we have accepted.
- It cements our loyalty to the information group, our networks and friend groups. We don’t have to fear expulsion.
- It looks like acting on that (dis)information gives us a better and more socially approved life.
- It avoids the pain of thinking that the people and political actors we usually support by default are actually not that good.
- It looks like acting on that (dis)information allows us to continue as normal, and keeps the meaning we have given our life, in our life
- It avoids anxiety and discomfort.
- Even worse we can accept (dis)information because our declared outgroups reject it.
- Or we can use the (dis)information to attack the outgroups and keep up the pretence they are evil.
(Dis)information and knowledge are tied in with social processes. The more you can increase the hostility between groups, the easier it is to get them to accept falsity rather than (relatively accurate) knowledge.
- The first step in authoritarianism is increasing polarisation between opposed groups.
- The second step is to promote the (dis)information that people identified with the outgroups can be blamed for a large portion of the problems faced or imagined by one’s own group.
We live in Borges Library of Babel in which there are infinte numbers of books composed of random sequences of letters.
This conceptual library includes all the books that have ever been written. It includes the lost wrItings of Shakespear, Sappho and Heraclitus. It also includes books mixed up with other books, books with spelling mistakes, books with occasional sentences leaping out of the random texts. But mainly it contains gibberish, and who can check the sensible passages with the ‘real’ books that were actually written? How do we tell a garbled but plausible Heraclitus from the real thing? Indeed, given the number of possible texts, it is highly likely that we will only ever, at best, encounter incorrect copies of what he wrote.